Saturday, August 14, 2010
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Many and profuse thanks to my buddy Bookmonkey for recommending this totally awesome series way back whenever he did. It was months ago. Check out his blog, there's a lot of awesomeness over there.
Night Watch is kind of the Russian version of The Dresden Files, but better. (Please don't kill me, Dresden fans. He's awesome too.) It follows Anton Gorodetsky's life as a low-level operative of the Night Watch, the organization of good-guy magic-users devoted to foiling the plots of the Day Watch, the bad guys. They have a careful truce set up, so that for every good deed THEY do, the bad guys get to do one EVIL deed, and vice versa.
So, they don't do all that much good. What makes them the good guys, again?
That's what the book is about. It's totally frikkin awesome. There's some navel-staring toward the end, but for the most part it's action, magic, chase scenes, and murders! It's divided up into three separate parts with some time in between each one, so we get an overview of a slightly bigger picture, three major events happening in sequence. We see some of the consequences of actions further down the road that we (or I, at least) never saw coming. It's like life, like that.
In a book with a theme like this, you expect to get a lot of Dark, Broody, Controversial characters (i.e. characters with no redeeming qualities whatsoever), and there is some of that, but I really like these characters and I like how all of them have legitimate reasons for their actions. Not just excuses or "I have to have motivation for my villains" reasons, REAL reasons. Of course, Anton is my favorite, and in no small part because he's one of the few characters who doesn't want to take part in the dance and the compromises, who doesn't just assume things are they way they should be because someone else tells him they are.
This is a book about subtlety. And it's about plots, and intrigue, and mysteries. And also about hurling fireballs. And a note on the translation: Absolutely flawless. I never would've guessed that it was originally in Russian, there's no awkwardness at all, and the writing isn't only competent, it's amazing.
Really, there wasn't a thing about it that I didn't love. There are three sequels, which I'll be reading as soon as possible: Day Watch, Twilight Watch, and Last Watch.
Buy Night Watch
Thursday, May 6, 2010
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
So, I'm a little shy today, because I got this book for review from the author, so it's a fair bet she's going to be reading the review shortly. Of course I'll be my usual honest, nitpicky self, not to worry. I was afraid I was going to have to be scathingly rude and snipey, but I'm shy because I liked it, so I'm a bit giggly, and I'm shy because I'm still going to be nitpicky right in her face. Am I allowed to criticize when she's published and I'm not? I'm going with a resounding "yes." This entire blog is me criticizing published authors, so I think my opinion on that should be obvious. But that's probably an essay of it's own.
Anyway, the book. It's a novelette, which means it could be considered a very short novel, but it has the structure and scope of a short story. It's about the a girl who is the last swamp elf in the world and lives with the big lizard people (the Reptar) who hate her guts. She meets a human, falls in love with him, and has to choose between him and causing the destruction of the entire Reptar race.
First, the sniping. There are a lot of what I consider simple mistakes in the first ten or fifteen pages: "as you know, Bob," fantasy names that sound made up, etc. There just seem to be too many words on the pages, when those sentences could be much more streamlined and get to the point a lot faster. I don't want to have to sit and decipher oddly phrased sentences when we could be getting on with the plot. I also think the Reptar are too human--just humans wearing crocodile suits, really. I would expect a reptilian culture to be noticeably different from a primate culture, just for starters. They wouldn't build things the same way. But that was less important as the story went on.
After about twenty pages, I was far too interested to continue making notes. Rhonda's strength definitely looks to be in the area of plotting, (Twists! Reversals! A totally unexpected ending, but still a square peg in a square hole!) and worldbuilding to a slightly lesser extent. A lot of it is pretty standard fantasy fare; some of it is fascinating. The Reptars have a post-technological society centered around a magic stone that seems to be alive in some way. It kind of creeped me out, but it's supposed to be benevolent. I'm terribly curious. It reminds me of Interstellar Pig, and oh, how I love Interstellar Pig...! Also, I thought the romance was done really well. It rang true.
You can read the first chapter at Rhonda Parrish's site, as well as see a bigger picture of the cover. (I'm not crazy about most of it, to be honest, but I love the Reptar in the background and you can't see his teeth in my little picture.) Keep in mind that it gets much better than the first chapter, after the plot picks up. If you like it, you can buy it here, or go here to browse her other work. (More stories set in this 'verse, surely?)
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Some other reviews led me to believe I was going to hate this and deride it mercilessly for being utter crap, but I don't and won't. I kind of loved it, and I'll tell you why.
It's not because of the historical accuracy. That obviously wasn't a concern here. The story was based on one image, and focused on what might have happened to achieve a moment like that. This is a highly stylized, highly fetishized, highly modern-opinion-ized version of Rome.
It wasn't because the heroine was likeable, because she wasn't. There's not anything likeable about her at all, really, except maybe her perseverance. But she's interesting. I'm not asked to like her, only to understand her.
It was because this is a really great pulp action novel. Blood, sex, violence, exotic locations, intrigue. The writing flows well and isn't too stylized or self-aware, and it's no chore to read. It's not a timeless work of literature or one of my favorite books, but it'll only take one afternoon to read. Embrace the glorious VIGOR of it, the intensity that's so serious as to be a bit silly. It's liberating. It's the perfect vacation book, whether you're on vacation or not. A bucket of popcorn wouldn't be amiss, either.
It sort of reminded me of Mara, Daughter of the Nile... Mara is a cut above, though, better history and focused on absolutely delicious intrigue.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Buy World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
Monday, March 22, 2010
For the uninitiated, Zorgamazoo is one of my absolute favorite books. I reviewed it here, and here's my interview with Mr. Weston, the author.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Monday, March 1, 2010
Anyway, The Masterplan. A brilliant scientist drags his ex-wife and his brother along on a mission designed to keep the universe from expanding too far (gazillions of years in the future, when that might be a problem.)
This isn't a traditiional graphic novel... It reminds me of a webcomic more than anything else, except not designed to be read one strip at a time. The art is in black and white and minimalist, with the characters mostly just distinguishing characteristics with a hint of background behind them. It makes the reading really smooth, and it feels sort of wistful and pure. It suits the story.
This is a pure kind of sci-fi, very much about ideas and science and an intergalactic, universal scope. It's not science-y, it's very easy to understand and I don't know how accurate any of the theories might be, but it is about science. It's also about those three characters I mentioned, but it's not like we have to know every detail about them. We know how they feel. It's about travelling all over time and space, meeting aliens, robots, themselves, and other awesomeness, but its also touching and sad in a way that's hard to describe. Wistful.
This is a great book and I highly recommend it. It's hard to describe, but it's an experience I really enjoyed. You'll want to have a few hours to yourself and just sit down and read it all the way through, and then sit there staring at the cover for a while before you move on. (If you ever do.)
Buy The Masterplan
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Friday, January 29, 2010
For the moment, I'm going to try to do graphic novels that stand alone and tell a complete story, and I'll probably continue to do more than one at a time when I do them. So, without further ado: Superman!
My three favorite titles, through mild coincidence, have nothing to do with each other but do tell an overall story. All Star Superman by Grant Morrison, Superman: For Tomorrow by Brian Azzarello, and Kingdom Come by Mark Waid.
All Star Superman is the only Grant Morrison title that I have any kind of enjoyment for, but it is AMAZING. We already know the basic story, about how Superman was sent as a baby from the planet Krypton, raised by a good farming couple in Kansas, etc. The Superman story has been told at least a thousand times, and Superman, on average, kind of bores me. All the stories are the same sometimes. But Morrison gets rid of the transitional material, the "story glue," and just shows us the panels that are important to the story. He shows us the heart of Superman, the reasons why we loved the story the first time we heard it. He shows us a naive, innocent man who is able to wield amazing power, and what's more, wield it well. The art is hard to explain, but I really like it. The whole story is contained in two volumes.
Superman: For Tomorrow is another two volume book, set a year after The Vanishing, a moment in which a substantial portion of Earth's population simply disappeared. It's a darker and edgier story, sparely written, and deeply moving. You have to fill in a lot of the story yourself, so it'll bear multiple re-readings. I was really surprised by how well the whole book was done... Azzarello shows us what happens when Superman loses his naivete and finds out the world is more complicated than he thought it was. It breaks his heart a little bit, but it doesn't break HIM. He doesn't lose his idealism. The art captures that story beautifully too... It looks like Superman in all his iconic awesomeness, but it incorporates shadows and uncertainty.
Now, if you've been following me for a while, you know how much I love Kingdom Come. It's one of my favorite graphic novels EVER, but it's also becoming one of my favorite Superman graphic novels. The Kingdom Superman is full of sorrow, and even bitterness, and he isn't perfect, but that doesn't make him any less Superman. He's still trying to do the right thing, and trying to save people. He still knows how to throw a punch and how to fill out spandex. I think Kingdom Come can be thought of almost as the future of For Tomorrow in a way.
I see these three graphic novels as partly a timeline, showing an almost childlike Superman growing up, but also as three kinds of Superman/Superman story. The simple kind, the kind that looks at the darkness, and the kind that goes all the way. Whole, breaking, broken. And the best thing is that all three kinds are about idealism. I love all of them. I love Superman. I love to turn a page and see a big, full-page drawing of Superman flying above all of us who are on the ground, because he's better than us, and he inspires us to be better too. Even when he's not perfect, he's inspiring.
There have been a few other ones I liked (Superman for All Seasons by Jeph Loeb was great, and the Superman: Man of Steel series that started in the eighties is my favorite longterm series) but these are my absolute favorites so far. For those of you who have never read Superman, I envy you the joy of discovering him for the first time, and I recommend Superman for All Seasons and then All Star Superman as a great place to start.
Buy All Star Superman (Volume 2 should be out in paperback at some point.)
Buy Superman: For Tomorrow
Buy Kingdom Come
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Before I read it I had somehow gotten it into my head that it was about a post-apocalyptic little girl with an ax... In case someone else got that impression, it's completely wrong and has nothing to do with this book. This story is about a present-time girl named Barbara, about 12ish I think, who has an ancient Norse hammer in her bag, with which to kill the giants of the title.
This is a sad book. Barbara basically stole my personality from when I was younger, and I think anybody could find a similar element to identify with. It's also a funny book in some places, and an exciting book especially toward the end, and an intense book all the way through. The art is fantastic, nightmarish, disturbing and cute as scenes demand. The design of the book as a whole is fantastic too, I love just holding it.
The story is complete in one book (unfortunately.) I suggest Courtney Crumrin(review here) as something also amazing and of similar content and style, but not the same.
Buy I Kill Giants
Friday, January 1, 2010
I was going to talk about Avatar this week, but I think plenty of people are doing that. Suffice it to say that I didn't love it unconditionally, but I did love it. Among (many) other things, the alien planet really looked alien, and it had a variety of cool animals and creatures populating it.
Which brings me around to The Deep. I'm absolutely terrified by creatures that live in the ocean--not in rivers or fishbowls, just in the ocean--but I'm also fascinated by them. They're so beautiful, and different, and complex, and simple, and alien. That's what this book is about.
This is an oversize book, one that you'll want to read at a table, and there's hardly any text. The whole book is huge, full-color pictures of deep-sea animals on black, like the cover, and it is truly amazing. The vast majority of them were animals I had never seen before, despite my ocean-dweller fixations, and they're animals I couldn't have made up if I tried. Each one has a small, inconspicuous paragraph with it's significant informtion, and every so often there are short essays to give you an impression of the big picture (ha, pun) but they support the pictures, not the other way around.
After I read this I immediately went out to look for more, but there's not much out there for laymen. This is the best of its kind, with current information and pictures you can stare at for hours. I knew there was some strange life on Earth, from pachyderms with prehensile noses to my weird grandmother, but I never knew there were things like this.
Buy The Deep